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Labour has called for urgent government action to ensure that local lockdowns are robust following complaints that officials in London failed to share full data about coronavirus infections with local authorities.
Leicester this week became the first city in England to go back into lockdown after a spike in infections, with people advised against all non-essential travel in or out of the city.
“The government made local lockdowns a key component of the exit strategy but yet again they were too slow to involve local authorities, just like they were too slow to enforce the lockdown nationally,” Labour’s shadow communities and local government secretary Steve Reed said.
“The lack of a functioning test, track and trace system, coupled with their failure to give councils the power to take action quickly, could lead to local outbreaks becoming deadly national ones. The government must not waste any more time, we are facing the risk of a deadly second wave of infections and a second national lockdown – fatal for both lives and livelihoods across the country.”
Leicester’s mayor Peter Soulsby criticised the government for delays in sharing detailed data about infections, but Boris Johnson said on Wednesday that all information about testing was now being shared with local councils. He denied the government had been caught off guard by events in Leicester.
“The government first took notice and acted on what was going on in Leicester on June 8th, because we could see that there was an issue there. We sent mobile testing units – four more mobile testing units – shortly thereafter,” the prime minister told MPs.
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“We engaged actively with the authorities in Leicester, with public health in Leicester and with everybody responsible in Leicester in the way that we have done with other areas that have had similar issues. Unfortunately, in Leicester, it did not prove possible to get the results that we have seen elsewhere, so on Monday we took the decision … to go into lockdown in Leicester.”
Labour leader Keir Starmer said there were “massive problems” with Britain’s testing and tracing system, with three out of four of those infected with coronavirus not being contacted by the system. He warned that Leicester could be the first of a succession of local lockdowns if the system was not improved.
Speaking to the Local Government Association, Sir Keir said local councils needed extra powers to deal with local lockdowns and warned of a £10 billion (€11.09 billion) shortfall in their finances because of coronavirus.
“If you need to close down a particular area at the moment, I don’t think local authorities have got the necessary powers to do it. What we can’t have is a situation where statutory instruments or other bits of legislation have to be passed in a hurry in response to each outbreak. There is a huge amount of work to do there,” he said.
“Councils are faced with much higher costs for key services such as social care, and much lower revenues through falls in areas such as business rates. It could mean further cuts to social care, fewer police officers. It could mean street lights going on later and going off earlier. It could mean libraries, gyms and community centres staying closed.”
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